Arch Dis Child Fetal Neonatal Ed 98:F542-F544 doi:10.1136/archdischild-2013-304158
  • Short research report

In utero drug and alcohol exposure in infants born to mothers prescribed maintenance methadone

  1. Gail Cooper3
  1. 1Neonatal Unit, Royal Hospital for Sick Children, Glasgow, UK
  2. 2Neonatal Unit, Department of Neonatology, Princess Royal Maternity, Glasgow, UK
  3. 3Department of Forensic Medicine and Science, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Laura McGlone, Neonatal Unit, Department of Neonatology, Royal Hospital for Sick Children, Dalnair Street, Glasgow G3 8SJ, UK; lauramcglone{at}
  • Received 3 April 2013
  • Revised 28 May 2013
  • Accepted 31 May 2013
  • Published Online First 8 July 2013


Aims To describe the prevalence of in utero alcohol and illicit drug exposure in infants born to mothers prescribed methadone in pregnancy, and to compare the accuracy of maternal interview with infant toxicology.

Methods Urine and meconium samples were collected from 56 infants born to mothers prescribed methadone during pregnancy and a confidential interview conducted soon after delivery. Samples were screened for drugs of misuse and meconium samples analysed for the presence of fatty acid ethyl esters (FAEEs) to detect prenatal alcohol exposure.

Results 91% of infants had been exposed to illicit drugs in utero, including opiates (73%), benzodiazepines (70%) and cannabinoids (59%). 47% of infants had elevated FAEEs. Meconium was more sensitive at detecting in utero drug exposure than urine toxicology (p<0.01 for opiates, benzodiazepines, cannabinoids) or maternal interview (p=0.03 for opiates, p<0.01 for cannabinoids).

Conclusions The majority of infants born to mothers prescribed methadone during pregnancy are exposed to polysubstance misuse, and almost one-half additionally exposed to excess alcohol.

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